Exit polls are indicating a large victory for former PM Benyamin Netanyahu in today's contest for the Likud leadership. It's not too unexpected of course but for some time, there has been a hint of optimism in the Silvan Shalom camp.
The two men represent two very different faces of the Likud. Foreign Minister Shalom focused on demonizing Netanyahu, Feiglin and Landau as too right-wing for the electorate and as extreme elements that will cause further shrinking of Likud support. He knows too well that unless the Palestinians kill too many Jews in the next three months, the majority of Israelis will go forward with Kadima (excuse the very intentional play on words) and re-embrace Sharon's "there is noone to talk to on the other side" policies which are bound to bring us a sequel to Disengagement #1.
Having been Foreign Minister for some time now and having played in the office corridors of the most powerful world leaders, Silvan Shalom feels nice, warm and fuzzy about the apparent shift in opinion and 'support' of Israel since Disengagement. He wants this to continue and sees it very much Sharon's way - that is, "we are not giving in to the Palestinians - we're giving up on them". In simplier terms, we can't live with them so we're separating ourselves from them - with or without a bilateral peace agreement.
He's not wrong is he? And is Sharon? Probably not. We do need to separate from those who wish to harm us and without a doubt, we gain nothing by overseeing the lives of others. I've lived here the entire brutal length of this Palestinian campaign of terror and frankly I've had enough of their crying games packaged together with steel bolts and nails strapped to the chest. We don't need to host them anymore and they could do with some scope to make lives for themselves.
OK, so you call me weak? Has Sharon turned soft? Or maybe, just maybe, the reality is that much of the country no longer wants to gift Hamas and co with the honor of controlling our lives - our every move, fear and emotion. Maybe, unilaterally, Kadima and the Shalom side of the Likud (among others) wish to take back Jewish destiny into their own hands. Nothing wrong with that now is there?!!
There being nothing wrong with wanting to keep the Palestinians away from us, why did the Likud choose Netanyahu? Simply, as I see it, because Bibi represents a little bit of something that is illustrated by the Uzi Landau approach. Sure, the former Finance Minister waited till time was right for him (only!) before he stood up against Disengagement but yet he still projects this confidence and this ability to convince the crowds that we must stand tough against terror and refuse to give ourselves over to the whim of a world that would happily allow a militarized terrorist Palestinian state to be developed next to Israel.
The crowds he has convinced so far are the Likud ticket holders. He will have to sit with the greatest strategists in the world now to decipher how to convince the Israeli people that this is not the time for further concessions and for the desired (far from perfect) default option - unilateral separation. How indeed can Netanyahu project the scraps of the Likud as responsible and correct in demanding reciprocity and an end to terror before any consideration of land-based compromise?
Personally, I'm a big advocate of reciprocity and of our demands for quiet. I'm constantly amazed that the world does not demand the same from the Palestinians. Yet, I'm conscious that Israelis (myself included) are fed up with guards on cafe entries and guards roaming bus stops. I've given up on the idea that Palestinians will use our concessions to build a fresh life for themselves and I'm convinved they'll continue to use goodwill work permits and hospital treatment as a means to carry out terror attacks. No doubt, they will also waste food and clothing money on trying to extend rocket range toward power plants and the like in Ashkelon.
Which leaves me where I was before the results of the Likud leadership race arrived. As Freddie Mercury once famously sang: "I want it all and I want it now". Unfortunately that's not an option in Israel. Sitting as I do, straddled across the sharp and painful Israeli-made political fence is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.